Luke Walton sat at the postgame podium, searching for a term to describe Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.
After a few seconds, the Lakers’ coach settled on three words.
“He’s a problem,” Walton concluded.
Indeed, Embiid nearly singlehandedly delivered the 76ers a 115-109 win over a Lakers team that received red-hot performances from two of its own young talents.
Brandon Ingram sliced and shot his way to 26 points while also hauling in 11 rebounds. Both figures were career-highs for the sophomore.
And rookie Kyle Kuzma added his own young career-best with 24 points — almost entirely off drives to the basket.
The Lakers (6-9) sunk into a 20-7 hole early in the first quarter, but Ingram was there with a lifeline.
He attacked the rim for each of his first three buckets, which opened up his mid-range jumper.
Ingram began to flip between slashing and pulling up, skillfully reading the defense to determine his course.
“When he’s hitting that mid-range jumper, he’s so long that he’s able to manipulate defenses a little bit,” Walton said. “I thought he just did a really good job tonight of taking what the defense gave him and knocking down those jump shots.”
With Ingram leading the way, the Lakers managed to turn the game into a slugfest between two of the NBA’s premier young teams.
Though the Lakers’ shooting woes continued with an unsightly 3-of-27 clip from 3-point range, they held Philadelphia to a similarly low mark (7-of-32).
Los Angeles also pounded the offensive glass for 22 of its rebounds (compared to Philly’s eight offensive boards) and limited its turnovers to nine.
But the Sixers (8-6) had Embiid.
Already a superstar at 23 years old, Embiid had a titanic game, shattering his previous career-high of 33 points by racking up 46 while adding 15 rebounds, seven assists and a career-best seven blocks.
Though he dominated every facet of the game, Embiid was at his best carrying the scoring load.
The Lakers tried covering him with big defenders, a small-ball center and double-teams. Nothing worked, as he shot 14-of-20 from the field and 16-of-19 on free throws.
His scoring doubled as a performance, as he beat his defenders with an endless supply of moves — from pull-up jumpers, spinning layups and dunks to spot-up 3’s, face-up J’s and a Eurostep.
“Joel Embiid killed us,” Kuzma said. “He had about 50 points. ... They gave him the ball every single time, and we couldn’t guard him.”
But Philly had trouble guarding Kuzma as well. As he has all season, the 22-year-old used his speed to take defenders off the dribble, scoring eight of his nine baskets near the rim.
He also had a pair of crucial fourth-quarter hook shots.
Philadelphia led by five with 7:28 left when Jordan Clarkson (20 points) drove for a tough and-1 bucket in the paint. Kuzma followed with a sweeping bank hook over Embiid and another defender to tie it up.
Shortly after, L.A. took a 100-98 left with five minutes remaining, as Ingram struck with an 18-foot face-up jumper.
But then Embiid awoke.
He put on a clinic of post-ups and pump-fakes on back-to-back possessions, then added three free throws, a block and an assist in the Sixers’ 12-4 run.
He finished with 19 points in the fourth quarter alone, lifting his team to a win in what promises to be a must-see series for the foreseeable future.
Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons nearly reached a triple-double with 18 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds and five steals. … Lonzo Ball was held to two points (1-of-9, 0-of-6 3-pointers), five rebounds and two assists. … A crowd of 18,997 sold out STAPLES Center.